It was a simple sign in the end zone of SoFi Stadium, but Susan Kearney held it proudly. Thirty-one stadiums? Check. Final stop -- SoFi. Bucket list complete? Also check.
When the Patriots played the Chargers in Los Angeles on Oct. 31, Susan finished a 16-year long journey that took her across the country, introduced her to lifelong friends, and helped create priceless memories. But what the sign doesn't say is why Susan set off on this bucket list adventure to begin with, and it all starts with her husband, Richard Kaplan.
As a couple, they couldn't get enough of football. The Patriots are "the boys." While they went to as many games in Foxborough as possible they made the game in Miami an event every year. It was exciting to travel somewhere else and experience a Patriots game on the road.
Before Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005, Richard was diagnosed with cancer. It's the call that you hope you never get. After a stem cell transplant meant he would be unable to travel with Susan to Jacksonville for the Super Bowl, the bucket list was born. They would travel to every NFL stadium to see their boys play.
"We'd get excited every year when the schedule would come out. We'd say, 'Okay, where we going this year?" Susan said.
Susan and Richard would pick two games to go to on the road every year. For the next decade, they traveled across the country, making friends and memories along the way. Eventually, the travel became too much for Richard as his condition worsened, but he insisted that Susan finish what they started together.
In July of 2016, Richard passed away after more than a decade battling cancer.
She honored him by riding in the Pan Mass Challenge as part of the Patriots Platelet Peddlers, but Susan knew she had another way to remember Richard, as well.
When football season rolled back around, she would hit the road again, but she wasn't prepared for how difficult it would be.
"It was emotional. The first game after he had passed, I walked into Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh after his death because that was one we never made it to," Susan said. "When I didn't get that phone call in the morning and he didn't send me a picture of him in his gear, that was a real, real emotional game knowing that he wasn't there to finish this."
With friends by her side, Susan picked herself up and continued to cross stadium after stadium off her list. Going into the 2020 season, all she needed was to head to Los Angeles. Of course, like so many plans in 2020, Susan's road trip was cancelled, which made last Sunday even sweeter.
"I went to my seat and had my sign and everybody was like, 'It's a great accomplishment,'" Susan said. "Even all the Charger fans, all our Pats that were out there. The support behind it to walk in that stadium, I felt like I had a victory even though who knew what the outcome was. When I walked into that stadium holding that sign up proud, I said I'm bringing home a W."
Like so many football fans, the game Susan loves isn't just a game. It connects her to people she loves. In the years before and after Richard passed away, Susan and her family experienced loss after loss. She lost her father, her mother-in-law, her husband and her own mother in subsequent years. The grief was overwhelming, and football and the Patriots gave Susan something to look forward to in the midst of it all.
"You have this void, and football filled my void," Susan said.
As Susan's emotional journey to see the Patriots play in every NFL stadium comes to an end, she can't help but think of what Richard would think, knowing she made their dream a reality.
"He would be proud," she said. "I know he would be proud to know that I continued in his honor."